Before starting my review, let me clarify that only the title of this book is in English, else it is not an English novel. It is a Hindi novel penned by the famous Hindi pulp fiction writer of mystery and thriller genre – Surendra Mohan Pathak.
In my review of Andheri Raat, I had spelled out the unique characteristic of the Sunil Series novels penned by S.M. Pathak that they contain a very lively portrayal of a fictitious city, Rajnagar and the connected places, mainly a tourist place, Jhery and its nearby spots too including Sunderban which is known (in his novels) as a trout-fishing region. In a particular season (November-February), trouts are found in plenty in the river flowing through that region and the govt. allows the people to fish there during that season.Prime Suspect tells the story of a murder in a private cottage in that region during the particular season itself which is of a multi-millionaire businessman of Rajnagar, Lalchand G. Hirwani. When the dead body is found, its deteriorated and stinking condition makes it apparent that the murder had taken place at least 5-6 days back without coming to anybody’s knowledge for that much time. The murder weapon is found lying beside the dead body only which is a very old-fashioned antique revolver. Alongwith the police, crime reporter of the national newspaper – Blast, Sunil Kumar Chakravarty (the hero of the novel) starts investigating the case on his own. During his investigation, he comes to know that the victim used to visit the place every now and then for taking a break from his hectic business life. There he used to live a very simple life under the fake name of Gulaab Rai with himself doing the essential jobs like cooking own food and cleaning own cottage. Being a fishing enthusiast, he had arrived at his cottage one day in advance of the date since which the ban on trout-fishing was going to be lifted by the government.
Sunil comes to know that the victim has a wanderer brother whose whereabouts are not known . Besides, he has a grown-up son through his first (deceased) wife and his second (current) wife is, in fact, a gold-digger who had married him only for his wealth. But the most interesting fact coming to his knowledge (while tracing the source of the antique murder weapon) is that just a couple of weeks prior to his murder, the victim had married a mature and educated lady, Shaanta who is an employee in the local museum-cum-library where he used to visit during his stay there but without revealing his true identity to her. When the police comes to know of Shaanta’s presence in the victim’s life, they consider her as the prime suspect of this murder. However after meeting Shaanta, Sunil feels that Shaanta has genuine love for her husband even without knowing his true identity and she is innocent. How he unearths the mystery, proving the innocence of Shaanta and exposing the real culprit, makes a very interesting reading.
I don’t know whether the plot is Surendra Mohan Pathak’s own idea or he has taken inspiration from some British / Americal pulp fiction work. However the treatment and the language used is definitely his own. He has narrated the story in a spellbinding manner with the intermittent dozes of humour (through interaction between Sunil and his Punjabi friend – Ramakant as well as the interaction between Sunil and his junior – Arjun) and teasings (through interactions between Sunil and Renu, the receptionist in Blast office). It’s no less entertaining than any Bollywood movie containing mystery, drama, humour and romance.
Surendra Mohan Pathak had created Sunil in 1963 with his first novel -‘Puraane Gunaah Naye Gunaahgaar‘ as an investigative journalist. The term of investigative journalism was coined by himself only for the first time in the world of Indian pulp fiction novels of mystery / crime-detection genre. Further, he has developed Sunil’s character as a kind-hearted and sensitive person who has utmost faith in the power of pen as well as the power of truth. He is an idealist who can never support untruth and who firmly believes that truth always prevails (Satyamev Jayate) if not sooner, then later. He believes in living in style but not in saving or accumulating for future because his philosophy of life is clear that death may catch him any day and he has nobody associated with him whom to worry about in case he is no more. And he is the perennial supporter of the underdog. Sunil, studded with these qualities, is a charming young hero of around 30 years who fearlessly goes after the criminals and solves mysteries before the police. He is the unique hero in the Indian pulp fiction world with more than 100 cases (novels) to his credit.
Prime Suspect was the 99th novel of Sunil Series which was first published in March 1991. The smoothly flowing narrative grips the reader from the very first scene and even after the exposure of the murderer, the master storyteller has kept one final jerk intact, to be rendered to the reader in the ending scene. Other than his stock characters, the writer has skillfully presented the characters of Shaanta and the victim’s wanderer brother, stressing the importance of simplicity, cleanliness of heart and similar virtues through them.
A guaranteed treat for the readers of Hindi fiction. Not just a mystery, but a heart-warming story containing drama, sentiments and humour also. Catch it if you can read Hindi and enjoy reading fiction.
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